Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Keep despairing, Bliss...

The New York Times wrote about Canada today. Brace yourself: It wasn't to call us cool.

According to reporter Clifford Krauss, Canadians are down in the dumps because their country is soooo boring and never does anything interesting like start wars and stuff. He says this is "the view of a growing number of historians, foreign policy thinkers and columnists from some of the nation's top newspapers."
Many see themselves as part of an informal school that has no name or single mentor, but all are writing the same assessment: Canada is in decline, or at the very least, has fallen short of their aspirations.

For these thinkers, Canada is adrift at home and wilting as a player on the world stage. It is dogged by not only uninspired leaders but also by a lack of national purpose, stunted imagination and befuddled priorities even as its economy prospers.

"I'm in almost total despair,'' Michael Bliss, a University of Toronto historian, said in an interview. "You have a country, but what is it for and what is it doing?''
Actually, there is a name for this nameless school, which includes such historians as Bliss, J.L. Granatstein and David Bercuson, as well as wannabe historian Andrew Cohen. They're called conservatives. And they're depressed for many reasons, one of which is that their party of choice lost at the last moment in the last election.

It used to be really easy to tell a conservative from a liberal. A conservative believed that a mythical Golden Age existed just a few decades ago, while a liberal believed that this mythical Golden Age would come to exist in the future.

Nowadays, that's all mixed up, of course. Liberals are isolationist and Conservatives are eager to change the world and everything's all topsy-turvy.

Bliss et al., however, are old-school conservatives -- at least in that sense. Their books all imagine that there was some sort of idyllic Canadian past as evidenced by the titles of their books: "Who Killed the Canadian Military?" (Granatstein) and "While Canada Slept: How We Lost Our Place in the World" (Cohen).

The truth is that Canada remains very respected in the world, though mainly now because of domestic policy rather than foreign policy. Why, for example, did 43 North Koreans scale the wall to the Canadian Embassy today desperately seeking asylum? Because we are still a beacon of hope to the world, folks.

Of course, whether or not Canada is a beacon or a warning signal depends on your politics, especially in the United States. John Kerry, Michael Moore, same-sex couples wanting to get married and people who think the War in Iraq was a mistake? Well, they think Canada is a pretty great country. Republicans and the fine folks on FOX News? They think we are sucky asshats.

So, yeah. What these so-called "prophets of pessimism" are saying is that they don’t personally like what Canada is doing in the world. But, for many people, our inaction rather than action in the current upheaval around the world is seen as a smart idea. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. (And, I should add, that used to be the conservative point of view!)

I’m going to give the last word to my old prof, Desmond Morton, who is also quoted in the New York Times article:
Morton, a McGill University historian who has written jointly with members of the school of thought but is not a member himself, said nations that sit next to countries with far more power and confidence - like, say, Belgium beside France - share "these envy problems."
But pooh-poohing his colleagues, he said, "They would love to be greater, but being great has a cost - usually to the foot soldier.'"
[Note: Links come via Mader Blog.]

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